Archbishop Hebda takes questions on new archbishop

| December 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

Numerous questions have been asked of leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as part of the listening sessions held throughout the archdiocese in October and November. The Catholic Spirit asked Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator, to answer several of them addressing the naming of a new archbishop. His responses are as follows.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda smiles as he listens to a comment during a Nov. 4 listening session at the University of St. Thomas. Eric Wuebben/For The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda smiles as he listens to a comment during a Nov. 4 listening session at the University of St. Thomas. Eric Wuebben/For The Catholic Spirit

Q. Does a person have to be a bishop before being named an archbishop?

A. For the statisticians among us, of the 31 sitting metropolitan archbishops in the United States, all but one had been bishops of another diocese at the time of their appointment (and he had already been working as an archbishop in the Roman Curia).

While in practice those chosen to be archbishops are often men who have already proven to be good bishops in another diocese, the Code of Canon Law doesn’t really differentiate between the prerequisites for bishops and archbishops. It simply states that the candidate has to be a priest who has been ordained at least five years and has attained the age of 35 years old. He has to be “held in high esteem” and be a man of “strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues” and “possess those other gifts which equip him to fulfill the office in question.” He is to possess a doctorate, or a pontifical licentiate degree, in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law. If not, he must be at least truly expert in one of these fields.

That being said, it seems significant that a few weeks ago Pope Francis appointed a parish priest to be the new archbishop of Palermo, traditionally one of the most important sees in Italy.

Q. When should we expect another auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese?

A. Given that an auxiliary bishop is by definition one who assists the diocesan bishop (or archbishop), it is logical that the appointment of an auxiliary bishop normally flows from a request from the diocesan bishop, based on his assessment of the pastoral needs in the diocese.

Whenever a new bishop arrives in a diocese, it could be expected that he would need some time to assess the needs of that local Church and to get a sense of the local clergy before requesting an auxiliary bishop. My understanding is that he first works with the nuncio to seek the green light to ask for an auxiliary and only then begins the process of putting together a list of three possible candidates. It’s an important decision both for the bishop and for the pope. Given the significance of unity in the Church, it’s critical to find an auxiliary who is able to exercise his office in a way that demonstrates that he is able “to act and think in accord with the diocesan bishop.”

While the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has traditionally had auxiliary bishops, there are no hard and fast rules for when a diocese would receive an auxiliary bishop, let alone a second or third. While the population of the diocese would normally be a relevant factor, the territorial size or cultural and linguistic diversity of the diocese could also play a role in determining whether a diocesan bishop would ask for an auxiliary and whether the Holy Father would grant that request.

Anyone regularly skimming the pages of The Catholic Spirit and knowledgeable about the life of this local Church could easily jump to the conclusion that a case could be made to justify a second auxiliary bishop (even when the auxiliary already “on the job,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens, seems to have the gifts, energy and stamina to do the work of a dozen). If a new archbishop comes in who already knows this Church and its clergy, he could probably move with relative alacrity. On the other hand, if he is brand new to this local Church, the appointment of another auxiliary could take somewhat longer. Given that the characteristics of the ideal auxiliary are in so many ways tied to the specific skill-set, leadership style and needs of the diocesan bishop, the search for the next auxiliary is not something that even a well-intentioned apostolic administrator could start.

Q. How much influence do you have on the choice for our archbishop?

A. As the apostolic administrator “sede vacante,” I have had a privileged view of the archdiocese and its inner-workings for almost six months. The listening sessions gave me a bird’s-eye view of the strengths and challenges of the archdiocese as well as the hopes of many of the faithful. I hope to be in a position to help the nuncio with the “needs of the diocese” piece of his analysis. The nuncio would surely know, however, that there are others — bishops, priests, religious and laity — with a longer history in the diocese and a deeper understanding of its particular role in the Church in the Upper Midwest and he presumably will seek their counsel. Once the nuncio feels that he has a fairly accurate snapshot of the current state of the archdiocese, he will probably turn to others, both in Minnesota and beyond, whose position or experience have afforded them a far better knowledge of the priests and bishops throughout our country who might be good candidates for the archdiocese at this juncture. In sum, I am responsible for only one piece of the puzzle.

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Category: Welcome Archbishop Hebda